New York -- Your small business could be dying, and you don't even know it.
According to an expert in Web site design, small businesses' Web sites are failing to leverage the Internet. As a result, many of them won't be around for very long.
But there are ways to counteract this trend, said Justin Kitch, CEO of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Homestead Technologies Inc. at Tuesday's Small Business Summit.
1. You think the Internet is a coming revolution.
There are 150 million daily users of the Internet in the United States, Kitch said. The Internet revolution has been here for a while. "In five years, local online advertising has grown from zero to a $5 billion industry," he said.
2. You don't have a Web site.
"If you don't have a Web site today, I can't help you," Kitch said. "You might as well not even name your company."
Kitch said 30% of small businesses do not have a Web site. Most of them won't be around for long.
3. You don't know how to change your Web site.
Kitch said a small business can't rely on a Web design firm to give it a packaged site. "A static Web site is dead," he said. "People can tell immediately that it's dead. You're better off putting up a PDF of your favorite brochure."
Kitch said a pretty Web site that is static is much less valuable than a functional Web site.
"It doesn't matter how a site looks, but how it feels," he said. "Google, MySpace, eBay are all ugly sites. But they feel great to the user."
4. If fewer than half of your customers can find you online, you're dead.
Kitch said small businesses need to market their Web sites to people under age 30. "Those people haven't even looked at the Yellow Pages before," Kitch said. "Half of your prospective customers are looking for you online. Soon it will be 75%."
5. You think your business is local.
"Travel agents thought their businesses were local," Kitch said. "Raise your hand if you used a travel agent in the last year." Almost no one at the summit raised a hand.
"There's no such thing as local anymore," he said. "National and global businesses are competing even with the most local businesses" via the Internet.
Kitch said small businesses should at least think regionally, if not nationally, when building an online presence.
6. You think your Web site is just for new customers.
Kitch said building a Web site aimed solely at attracting new customers is akin to putting a "closed" sign out for existing customers. Most new customers don't come to a small business's Web site because the site is dynamic, Kitch said. They visit based on the results of a search for goods or services. Instead, a Web site has more influence on whether customers come back after their first visit to a Web site.
7. You think your Web site is just for customers.
Kitch showed his audience two early print advertisements from Apple Inc. The decades-old ads were aimed at educators and writers. Kitch said these ads reflected Apple's early view of its prospective market. By narrowly focusing its early marketing efforts, Apple made a mistake.
Kitch said the same lessons should apply to the Web sites of small businesses. In addition to taking a broad view of potential customers, small businesses should also build their Web sites so they bring value to employees, partners and suppliers.
"Almost any business process can be done online," Kitch said.
8. Your Web site is your Internet strategy.
Alluding to the film Field of Dreams, Kitch said, "If you build it, they won't come." He said small businesses have to go beyond building a first-class Web site to win online, he said. They have to be actively involved in lead generation technologies, blogs, user groups, etc. Customers will read what others are saying about small businesses, so those small businesses need to engage the online community and try to control their message. Small businesses should have a story to tell, he said. Customers want to know that story.
9. You think being small is a disadvantage.
Kitch said customers are looking for big-company values online with personalized, small-company services. With an online presence, small businesses can create that big-company presence. Small businesses can then leverage their small business-style customer service as an advantage.
10. You'll fail if you do what I say.
Kitch said small businesses should never rely solely on anyone's advice when building up their online strategy. Instead, they should challenge conventional approaches, learn and adapt. He said no two small businesses are alike.
Business owner Melvin Montalvo called Kitch's pointers a "wake-up call."
Montalvo is vice president of sales and business development at technology services company myITprovider in West Caldwell, N.J.
Montalvo said he was especially struck by Kitch's advice to reach beyond his company's Web site and get involved in the Web.
"How a Web site should have a story. … We have a good Web site that does explain what we do," Montalvo said. "But the story of our business is not there. We're a family business, and part of our business is about trust, about the trust that exists in a family."
Montalvo also was struck by the notion that a Web site is more about existing customers than new customers.
"Once you get them there, you want it to be friendly enough to get them to come back," he said. "We have to figure out how to do that."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer